Interview

1st January 2010 at 00:00
Frances Cook manages the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children, the biggest facility specialising in the speech problem in the world
  • Why did you become a speech and language therapist?
    • As I was about to leave school, I met a speech therapist who had been working in the Canary Islands and I thought "that'll do me". When I found out I would be studying psychology, physiology, neurology, linguistics and phonetics I was even more interested. I also wanted to be able to get a job as soon as I qualified.

      • How did you get involved with the Michael Palin Centre?
        • In the late 70s I worked in London with Lena Rustin, a pioneering speech and language therapist who was passionate about creating specialist services for young people who stammer. There were none at that time. (The comedian and presenter) Michael Palin's father had a stammer, and he became our vice-president in 1993. When the centre opened we had one part- time speech therapist, now we have 13. We are the biggest centre specialising in stammering in the world.

          • What are the main challenges facing pupils who stammer in mainstream schools?
            • The oral nature of the curriculum is difficult for all children with speech, language and communications needs. But stammering triggers people to laugh, mimic or mock. Children who stammer can face teasing from their peers when they try to speak in class. They can stop asking or answering questions and this affects the way that a teacher perceives their abilities. Many teachers either haven't met or don't know they have met a child who stammers and they have no idea how to help.

              • What are typical characteristics of a child with a stammer?
                • Children who stammer are a complete cross section, they are just normal kids who happen to have a speech problem. The strange thing about stammering is that it varies from day to day and situation to situation.

                  Children try desperately hard to disguise their stammer. They will often be very quiet in the classroom, they will give very short answers, they will say "I don't know" when clearly they do, they won't want to be in the school play. They may seem anxious and withdrawn. These children have the same range of abilities as all other children - except for the devastating problem of not being able to speak when they need to.

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